This year, when nothing felt like “business as usual,” I really needed to do “Christmas as usual.” Judging by the early joydemic of festively decorated homes, a lot of people out there did. November was mercifully mild and with so many people working from home or — thanks, COVID! — not working at all, we had ample time to deck the halls.
Granted, the reality of Christmas rarely lives up to our glorified idea of it. But even a gaudy, expensive, over-commercialized holiday seems like a welcome break during one of the grimmest years in recent history. Instead of fighting over political ideology, the pros and cons of masks and the post office, we can fight over something relatively simple — like the last Baby Yoda stuffie.
And so I dutifully hauled out my boxes and bins of Christmas finery, telling myself that I would “only” put up a tree this year and possibly decorate the fireplace mantel.
This is not the first year I’ve done this. Many years, I’ve told myself that I would do “Christmas Lite,” so there wouldn’t be so much to clean up in January. Did I really need to wrap the toaster in tinsel and make the guest bathroom look like a Santa Village at the mall? Does the toilet plunger really need to be decorated like a candy cane? Methinks not.
So practice some self-control, Wendy Lou Who. Think minimalism, restraint, class. Not so much yuletide as kewltide.
So I put on some holiday tunes and assembled the tree. I opened the ornament containers and began taking them out, one by one, to hang on the Tannenbaum. As I’d skipped almost all holiday decor last year, I’d forgotten some of the newer ornaments. The tiny stocking to commemorate my Kita, now prancing through a dog park in the sky. The teensy knitted Santa suit hanging on one perfectly beaded hanger. Small, hanging picture frames bearing photos of nieces when they were little.
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Every ornament had a memory. The wooden cheerleader figure that Mom gave me back when I was in high school, because the shock of yellow yarn hair reminded her of me.
The very old ceramic ornament of baby mice asleep — their delicate eyelashes painted perfectly — inside a green matchbox
A tiny cookie sheet covered with clay gingerbread men, which a dear friend had given to me as part of a holiday baking day/gift exchange decades ago.
The stuffed fabric ornaments made by my seamstress sister, including a gift-laden Santa sled, red and green stocking and one tiny felt mouse asleep in a walnut shell. (Thanks to Clement Clarke Moore, sleepy mice are the height of holiday cuteness until Dec. 25. After that, you can again start screaming at them and chasing them with brooms.)
Some of the ornaments sparked bittersweet feelings, like the stuffed penguins given to me by a beloved ex-sister-in-law or the Hallmark ornament from an estranged friend. Still, I had kept them all, as they seemed too special to part with.
Before long, the tree was groaning beneath the weight of 55 years of Christmas decor. I turned to the fireplace, determined to not overcrowd it with Santas and garland and holidazzle. Still, I couldn’t leave those cute snowmen in the bins, could I? They were from Mom. And it would be a shame if I didn’t set up the little kitchen tree, with its darling retro kitchen ornaments, or that cheerful candle centerpiece.
In the end, it seems like Christmas decorating is a lot like the holiday itself: bright, shiny and prone to excess. Doing it halfway is kind of like paying for a buffet and only eating salad. It can be wasteful and commercialized and gaudy, but it can also be filled with family, memories and magic.
It’s ho-ho-ho, not ho-ho-hum.
Now, where did I put the plunger?
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.